Overall, ASUS' clear-cut X79 family is laid out so that each model carries an associated value to justify its price increase. ASUS also looks to break a simple "spec-to-spec" marketing comparison, as they've included components such as an Intel NIC (which much of the market has followed) and other high quality chips, as well as user-friendly design which breaks simple numerical comparisons. It's not simply X-number of USB ports versus Y-number on a competitor, and it's with this mentality we think ASUS has pulled ahead in motherboard marketshare. A perfect example here is the fan header placement, with two 4-pin connectors right near the CPU pocket for high performance coolers, one on the left edge for exhaust fans seen on 99% of cases, and other strategically-placed locations. The cheaper, easier way would be to lay out the core components first, and stick the fan headers where they fit without regard to the end-user. Other items like removable BIOS chips, diagnostic LEDs, and the USB Flashback utility breaks these simple number comparisons by adding value in usability.
ASUS has also removed contraints on how you customize your system. Anything that can be changed in the BIOS can be changed with AISuiteII, and there are some hardware-level switches for the EPU and TPU which add further flexibility. ASUS' UEFI BIOS is the best in the business in terms of smooth operation, natural navigation with a keyboard or mouse, and overall appearance. ASUS also conducts high levels of compatibility validation, which further translates into a better, smoother overall experience. The Auto-overclock options are also intuitive and easy to use, and allows a novice to safely enjoy the performance boost of an overclock without touching a single clock or multiplier setting. The extreme setting took us to 4.5GHz, and even for an experienced overclocker, provides a baseline to start their own benchmarking from. Advanced power management is also available for those who understand their implications in achieving their highest overclock possible.
The overall performance of the board, plus the BIOS and OS-level features, and the intelligent layout of the board make it a winner in many regards. The CPU socket area is actually quite spacious, which will alleviate worries about cooler compatibility we saw in the X79-UD3. The P9X79 does come with a $20 higher price tag than the X79-UD3, and ASRock also makes some appealing budget boards in the ~$200 range, but for an enthusiast platform, and a board which has all of the core enthusiast features throughout, the P9X79 carries the extra weight to justify the cost for most making the jump to Sandy Bridge-E. The flexible fan and power controls, SSD caching, an Intel NIC, 8 DIMM slots, UEFI memory diagnostics, and the BIOS flashback utility add value in a larger number of aspects, and the overall compatibility of the X79 platform is icing on the cake.
- Fully-capable OS-based tuning
- Auto-overclocking works great
- Logical and functional board layout
- Hardware-side EPU and TPU switches
- Removable BIOS chip
- BIOS Flashback takes the worry out of BIOS updates
- More expensive than other base-level options
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